The USA soccer league has garnered much intellectual discussion in recent years on the plethora of foreign players that have added to the game, from Haitian born, Joe Gaetjens, the goalscorer against England in the 1950 World Cup, to the giant’s of the North American Soccer League (or NASL) in the 1970’s who attracted a plethora of world stars like Pele, Beckenbauer and England’s own, Steve Hunt (ask a Coventry City fan). More lately, with the growth of the Major League Soccer (the MLS), much (or much too much) was written of David Beckham’s impact on the league (Dure, 2010, West, 2016, Wahl, 2010). But foreign players playing in the USA is not a new phenomena. An example of this might be Alex Jackson who, along with his brother, Walter, spent one season playing together for Bethlehem Steel Corporation. The season was 1923-4. Walter would return, but Alex would go on to bigger things.
In many ways, Alex Jackson was one of a few players who came back from the USA with an enhanced reputation. Perhaps, only two other players would do much later in the twentieth century with NASL. Peter Withe at Portland Timbers (they called him ‘the wizard of nod’ due to his heading prowess) and Peter Beardsley at Vancouver Whitecaps. For many players in the NASL league, the summer time league allowed for a boost to their earnings and not their reputation.
But after the First World War and the rise of the American economy and increase in leisure time, sport took on a growing dominance in society. Baseball, Grid-Iron football and Hockey would grow. As would soccer. The late David Wangerin (2008) wrote of Bethlehem Steel Corporation Soccer team :-
Bethlehem Steel Corporation Soccer team had been created by Charles M. Schwab, who owned the steel mill. An infamous union breaker, Schwab was not averse to philanthropy and allowed the staff to create a recreational soccer team, playing it’s first game in 1907. By 1914, the team became professional, with a large influx of Scottish players coming to Bethlehem, as well as many other clubs in the USA who had joined the newly formed American Soccer League (ASL). The flow out of players from Scotland (often approached illegally) caused the Scottish FA to convene a meeting about what they termed ‘the American menace’ in 1925.
One such youngster to come to The Bethlehem Steel soccer team was Alex Jackson, who had previously been at Dumbarton and come to Bethlehem with his brother, Walter. As Jolannou (1990) says ‘financial rewards was always near the top of Alec’s priorities, even at a young age’.
Also, as Charlie Shaw, Celtic goalkeeper stated in 1925 (Wangerin,2008):-
I shall earn double what I had last season from Celtic, and the maximum is double the highest salary I have ever earned in one year.
Jackson, a winger, who would ‘cut in’ and shoot as well as a good header of a ball. He was nicknamed the ‘gay cavalier’.
His time at Bethlehem came with 28 appearances and 14 goals during the 1923-4 season. The local press were mighty impressed by this new addition. The first mention of Alex Jackson in the local paper ‘The Globe’ on the 22.09.23 that:-
The Bethlehems will show a side that will be much stronger than last season’s one, for it has engaged the services of Carson, a goalie, St. Johnstone; Walter Jackson, Kilmarnock; Alec Jackson, Dumbarton.
Though, two days later, saying:-
Of the new men Alec Jackson, an eighteen year solid youngster strongly impressed and his work ranked with the best ever seen on the local field.
Jackson’s first goal came in a defeat to New York, which the Globe described thus:-
However, such playing as Bethlehem displayed could not be denied and after thirty five minutes of play, sensational combination by the brilliant Jackson brothers brought the ball into New York territory and resulted in A. Jackson beating Geudert.
As the season progressed, the descriptions of the Jackson brother would become more effusive.In a 2-2 draw in New York, his headed goal was much praised.
With the introduction, Soccer seemed to be on the rise, with ‘The Globe’ reporting (10.11.23):-
The steady growth which has marked the game [of soccer] for the past five years seems to have developed almost along boom lines.
Reading through The Globe, Jackson seemed a very successful scoring with his head and also highly regarded as a corner taker, and this was especially mentioned in the paper after Bethlehem Steel defeated Fall River in the American Cup in May, 1924. This was his first trophy that Jackson had won.
Unfortunately, Alex Jackson returned to Scotland after cracking his head in the local swimming baths. He promised to return, but signed for Aberdeen, then Huddersfield and then Chelsea. He retired from professional soccer aged just 26 when he fell out with the Chelsea board over the minimum wage. This is covered more fully here.
Alex Jackson though is more famous for scoring the first international hat-trick at Wembley Stadium on 31st of March, in what has been termed the ‘Wembley Wizards’, when Scotland came out 5-1 winners.
Jackson though, underlined something, not just talent and skill, but a steely determination to try something new, like going to America and taking on the Chelsea board. He also played for one of the biggest teams in the states. In many ways, it should be stars like Jackson that get more recognition for their time in the USA than former England captains and Pele.
Article © Les Crang